In Theaters

How often do we take stock of our lives? In many cases, we don’t even ask the question, let alone engage in the act of doing so. But, if our lives seem empty or missing something, we might consider evaluating who we are, what we’re doing and where we’re headed while we still have time to do something about it. The process may be difficult, even painful, but the solution may involve something as simple as just changing our outlook. So it is with an unstoppable caregiver in the thoughtful, profound new character study, “Diane” (web site, trailer).

Diane Rhodes (Mary Kay Place) routinely places everyone else first. Without reservation, the aging widow on the brink of her sunset years diligently tends to the needs of others before addressing her own. She delivers food to friends grappling with health issues (Ray Iannicelli, Marcia Haufrecht). She regularly volunteers at a homeless shelter, serving meals to the needy. And she dotes on her bed-ridden terminally ill cousin Donna (Deirdre O’Connell), spending time with her, reminiscing about the past and playing gin rummy, while frequently providing rides to the hospital for her Aunt Mary (Estelle Parsons), Donna’s elderly mother.

As demanding and time-consuming as these commitments are, however, Diane’s biggest caregiver challenge is looking after her son, Brian (Jake Lacy). The unemployed thirty-something lost soul lives in a small, rundown apartment with his latest insignificant other (Gabriella Rhodeen) and appears to be headed for a relapse into drug addiction. She uses her own brand of tough love to try to get him to shape up, but her efforts are often to no avail, a frustrating experience to be sure.

Diane Rhodes (Mary Kay Place) perpetually runs from one errand of mercy to another, always looking after others but not herself, in the thoughtful new dramatic release, “Diane.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

Given the foregoing, one might wonder how Diane keeps going. It seems she could use some pampering or, at the very least, allow herself to slow down occasionally. On a visit to see Donna, for example, Diane is so run down from everything that she falls asleep out of exhaustion, an act for which she is gravely embarrassed, prompting her to needlessly apologize to her cousin. Likewise, while volunteering at the shelter, one of the organization’s regulars (Charles Weldon) offers to help her clean up the kitchen after a minor accident, assistance she initially tries to dismiss, as if she’s somehow unworthy of it.

This is not to suggest that Diane is without others who have her back. She comes from a large extended family, and there are plenty of aunts and cousins (Joyce Van Patten, Phyllis Somerville, Glynnis O’Connor, among others) who look out after the tireless Samaritan. What’s more, Diane has a fast friend in her fellow volunteer, Bobbie (Andrea Martin), who routinely advises her to take time to take care of herself and to be willing to let others work out their own issues at times, most notably where Brian is concerned.

Nevertheless, despite such sincere, heartfelt support, Diane is relentlessly driven in her pursuit of caring for others. But why? That’s what her story gradually reveals. Much of this compulsion seems to be rooted in making up for past mistakes; by doing good, she hopes that she can atone for the errors of her ways, including, somewhat inexplicably, those for which she has already been forgiven. What’s more, with everyone she loves aging and moving ever closer to death, Diane is faced with the shattering of a cherished but naïve longstanding belief that everyone lives forever. This is a painful truth that she quietly hopes to deny by perpetually keeping busy, an effort that ultimately, inevitably and sadly goes for naught with virtually everyone she seeks to help.

Surrounded by her large extended family, including Aunts Madge (Joyce Van Patten, seated, second from left) and Ina (Phyllis Somerville, seated, second from right), Diane Rhodes (Mary Kay Place, seated, right) finds support for her many endeavors as seen in the insightful new character study,
“Diane.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

How will Diane resolve these issues for herself? That’s what remains to be seen as her story (and those of everyone else around her) plays out. One can only hope that she comes up with answers that satisfy her sensibilities and provide her with the peace of mind that forever seeks to elude her – before life catches up with her.

On its face, “Diane” may seem like a simple tale about daily living, a study of a fairly ordinary character. Most of us probably know a “Diane” of our own, one who continually gives and gives and asks for little in return. It’s a rather common character type, one rooted in reality and not at all that unusual.

So why should we care about her or her story? It’s because this film takes a very deliberate approach in telling it, specifically when it comes to showing what we believe gives our life meaning. And writer-director Kent Jones has done an excellent job in demonstrating that for us, an approach that’s part instruction manual, part cautionary tale and part exercise in enlightenment.

As discussed above, Diane’s reluctance to accept help is clearly rooted in her beliefs about herself. She believes she needs to continually do good works for others to make up for past misdeeds. In some ways, it’s easy to understand how she might feel that way, especially given the often-guilt-ridden way that many of her generation were raised. But must we perpetually devote ourselves to the well-being of others at the expense of ourselves out of some sense of obligation, even in instances where we’ve been forgiven for our transgressions? Well, that depends, but, no matter what, that’s where our outlook comes into play. If that’s what we believe we must do, then that’s how our existence will unfold. But we should understand, as the film attempts to make clear, that this is not an intractable absolute; we have other options open to us if we choose to avail ourselves of them. In the end, though, it all depends on the perspective we choose to embrace. This is the lesson for Diane – and for those of us who share her view of life.

This is an important consideration in learning how to make the most of the time we’ve got, an opportunity to maximize our accomplishments, as well as our enjoyment and satisfaction of life. This grows ever more critical the further we travel down the road of life, a notion depicted as a cinematic metaphor throughout the film. It becomes particularly crucial the closer we come to the end; we must ask ourselves, how do we want to spend the time we have left? Do we indeed wish to make the most of things for ourselves and those we seek to help? Or are we going to fritter our time away worried about inconsequentials, such as insignificant details, the opinions of others or ill-placed, self-created feelings of trumped-up guilt? There’s powerful food for thought in this, again both for Diane and those of us who share her perspective.

Relentlessly driven Samaritan Diane Rhodes (Mary Kay Place, right) receives encouragement to take care of herself from friend and fellow volunteer, Bobbie (Andrea Martin, left), in writer-director Kent Jones’s debut fictional feature, “Diane.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

We must also be mindful about others’ feelings in how we conduct ourselves in these areas. For example, Diane nearly always turns down the assistance others offer her, believing she’s somehow not worthy of it. But does she ever consider that she might be denying others the opportunity to be of service to someone who needs help? One could even go so far as to say that her attitude is a selfish one, because she prevents others from living their truth. It’s a consideration we should always keep in mind when such situations arise. We might even learn something from them, namely, that it’s perfectly fine to be the recipient of aid and not always the one to dispense it.

This may seem like a lot to take in from a simple story about the life of an aging caregiver. But that’s precisely what makes this such a quietly powerful and poetic film. Rich in insight and symbolism, this little drama elevates a seemingly everyday tale to the height of inspired storytelling. We can thank writer-director Jones for giving us such a touching tale. We can also thank executive producer Martin Scorsese for backing this project, the kind of profound, introspective piece one might expect from the onetime aspiring priest-turned-filmmaker. Mary Kay Place gives an excellent performance in an uncharacteristic dramatic role, backed by a superb cast of supporting players, including many veterans who bring their best game to their roles. Please note, though, that this one may not last long in theaters, so catch it while you have the chance – you won’t be disappointed.

Seeking solace in the woods of Upstate New York helps provide comfort to overburdened caregiver Diane Rhodes (Mary Kay Place) in the insightful new offering, “Diane.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

It’s been said that “life is what you make of it.” But how often do we really take the time to examine that statement? What exactly are we making of it? And are we even aware that we truly can do so? We may glibly agree to the idea in passing conversation, but are we really employing the notion in our everyday lives (and, if so, to what end)? Thankfully, “Diane” helps to bring these questions into sharp focus, important considerations for those of us who are closer to the finishing line than the starting point. It’s something we should take to heart and seek to work out while we still have the time and opportunity. It would indeed be a shame to let the clock run out with our work unfinished – and our peace of mind still in limbo.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Distinguishing What We Know From What We Think We Know

We can take comfort in knowing that certain aspects of our life are exactly as they seem to be. Or can we? Are we getting a clear, accurate picture of the people, places and things that make up our existence? Or are we falling prey to what we’d like to think we know about such elements of our reality? The result can be eye-opening – and disillusioning – as an anguished parent discovers for himself in the sizzling thriller, “Searching,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disc and video on demand (web site, trailer).

When David Kim (John Cho) loses his wife, Pam (Sara Sohn), to lymphoma, he’s devastated by her death. However, with his teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) to raise, he needs to pull things together to help the adolescent become the talented and successful young woman who has made him and her late mother so proud. He provides a deft mixture of love, support and gentle but firm guidance in hopes that he’ll be able to complete a task on his own that he had so lovingly shared with his deceased beloved.

One evening while Margot is at a study group meeting at a friend’s home, she contacts her dad via video phone to let him know that she’ll be staying late with her classmates. He takes note of her call and, not long thereafter, goes to bed. While David’s asleep, though, Margot apparently phones again, leaving a message to have him call her back. Upon awakening, David gets the message and returns the call only to get Margot’s voicemail – a process that’s repeated several more times with no response. Needless to say, he’s worried.

David methodically tries to track down his daughter’s whereabouts throughout the metropolitan San Jose area. He contacts friends, parents of friends, her piano teacher and others, all to no avail. He learns she didn’t show up for school, a cause for greater concern. He then goes through her computer records, tapping into her email and various web sites to see if he can obtain additional clues about new places to look. But, when those leads continually come up empty, he realizes he needs to contact authorities. He reaches out to the police, who assign Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) to his case.

Detective Vick takes a strong interest in the investigation, urging David to find out as much as he can about his daughter’s online life in hopes that any new revelations will provide help in solving her disappearance. He agrees and begins probing Margot’s cyber identity in earnest. And what he finds shocks him: Margot, it seems, is nothing at all like he’s thought she is – secretive, a relative loner and someone who has contacts with people he never dreamed she’d associate with.

The discovery overwhelms David, but, as requested by the police, he shares what he finds. Ever the professional, Detective Vick offers whatever official advice she can, but, as a parent herself, she also seeks to provide solace by telling David about her own personal experience with her troubled teenage son, a story not unlike what appears to be unfolding with Margot. David takes some comfort in this, but it doesn’t change the fact that his daughter is still missing.

Together, David and Detective Vick continue to work the process of trying to find the missing teen, an undertaking that grows ever more disturbing and confounding, especially when many seemingly possible leads don’t pan out or turn out to be utterly frustrating red herrings. It’s stressful, too, particularly when some of the revelations involve individuals David never would have suspected as being part of this, such as his brother, Peter (Joseph Lee). Many illusions, it seems, come up for shattering.

To say more would reveal too much about how this picture plays out. However, as the story progresses, David is faced not only with the challenge of finding Margot, but also with having to reconstruct the cherished and seemingly unshakable impressions he holds about her and others. It’s a lot to go through all at once, especially since it’s coming not long after his wife’s passing. And it’s a story that proves trying both for the protagonist, as well as those watching it.

“Searching” is a story that has much to do with what we believe about others. But, as becomes apparent, we find that those notions can prove inaccurate, largely because they’re rooted in what we would like to believe about them. Unfortunately, when we imbue others with traits that we hold dear and those qualities don’t jibe with those that they believe about themselves, we can come up against the devastatingly disillusioning outcome that our colleagues, family and friends may not live up to our expectations.

Understanding this is crucial if we hope to establish realistic and meaningful impressions of others. It means using the power of discernment to get an accurate handle on our beliefs about them and to avoid the pitfall of distorted wishful thinking. We might also be able to glean insights about them by tapping into our intuition. Regrettably, though, this is a resource we tend to underutilize, mainly because its nature tends to be viewed with skepticism, one that’s seen as less trustworthy than our rational, logical intellect. By shortchanging it, however, we cut ourselves off from a resource that could prove valuable in grasping the motivations and outlooks of those we seek to understand.

This is particularly crucial in the age of the Internet, where it’s possible – in fact, quite easy – to distort our persona, creating one that deviates significantly from the face we show the world in person. It’s even feasible to fabricate an entirely different profile of ourselves, one that’s intentionally cryptic or deceiving, making it difficult for others to discover who’s really behind the mask. That’s a point driven home here by setting the entire film in cyberspace, with the story told on computer screens using video cameras, web site pages, pop-up windows, and text and email messages, showing how easy it is to convey deliberately crafted, purposely camouflaged impressions of oneself.

Such undertakings can prove particularly difficult to unwind in scenarios like the one David faces in this film. When one approaches these circumstances from a standpoint of heartfelt love and sincere intent but repeatedly comes up against calculated subterfuge and deliberate deception, the result can be devastating, both from a disillusionment standpoint, as well as where our emotions are concerned. It’s a situation no one would wish on another, especially a loving, desperate parent seeking to find a lost child.

This slow-burning, intense thriller has more twists and turns than a winding mountain road. What’s more, through this novel feature film debut, director Aneesh Chaganty, a former Google employee, has created a new storytelling approach that uses an innovative cinematic vocabulary, opening the door to an inventive way of spinning yarns on celluloid. Admittedly, some of the computer screen contents pass by a little too quickly and could stand to be enlarged in some instances, but this is a minor shortcoming in the overall narrative context. Moreover, in telling the story in this way, Chaganty offers viewers a potent cautionary tale about the pitfalls of cyberspace communications and what we can actually believe about the material showing up on our computer screens, particularly when it comes to the identity of the individuals we’re supposedly communicating with.

This largely overlooked cinematic gem came and went from theaters rather quickly when it was released in late 2018, but, thankfully, it seems to be finding a life of its own on home viewing options. It has also been the recipient of a number of accolades, such as its selection as one of the National Board of Review’s Top 10 Independent Films of 2018. It earned John Cho an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best male lead. And, at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, the picture picked up the Audience Award and the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize. Not bad for a first feature from a new industry voice.

In the end, as this film shows, we’re all searchers at heart, an effort made easier by the rise of the Internet and a growing understanding of our inner selves, phenomena that in many ways are mirrors of one another. As we embark on a journey of personal discovery, no matter what kind, we hope that it will provide us with meaningful insight into our conscious awareness and the human experience. But, as we set out on such odysseys, we must prepare for a variety of situations, and the better we do so, the better off we’ll be – or so one would hope.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

How Far Must We Go To Make Amends?

How far are we willing to go to make amends? To be sure, many of us justifiably feel compelled to right our wrongs, often with good reason. But, when it comes to compensating for the misdeeds of others for whom we feel responsible, how long must we leave ourselves on the hook, if at all? That’s a conundrum faced by a noble public servant with good intentions – and not always the best results – in the wacky new French farce, “The Trouble with You” (“En liberté!”) (web site, trailer).

To the residents of a French Riviera resort town, Police Captain Jean Santi (Vincent Elbaz) is a local hero. Having successfully taken on local crime figures, such as drug kingpin Mariton (Hocine Choutri), Santi is hailed for his daring heroics, an accomplishment that even earns him a statue on the town’s waterfront. It’s seen as a fitting tribute to a detective who lost his life in the line of duty, leaving behind his police lieutenant wife, Yvonne (Adèle Haenel), and his idolizing young son, Théo (Octave Bossuet). There’s just one problem with all the accolades: they’re undeserved.

Two years after Santi’s death, Yvonne learns that her husband was a crooked cop. While conducting a raid on a shady S&M parlor, Yvonne discovers that Jean took a hefty cut from an insurance claim related to a scam involving a jewelry store robbery, one that also netted a sizable rock for his wife’s hand. What’s worse, though, she also finds out that Jean covered his tracks by framing an innocent man, Antoine Parent (Pio Marmaï), who has spent the past eight years in prison.

Outraged, Yvonne plans to blow the whistle on her late husband to a local judge. But family friend and fellow cop Louis (Damien Bonnard) dissuades her from doing so, suggesting that such a revelation would tarnish Théo’s memory of his father. Besides, with Antoine’s release from jail only two weeks away, Louis contends that any intervention on Yvonne’s part at this point wouldn’t substantially reduce his sentence.

While trying to aid a wrongly incarcerated ex-con, police lieutenant Yvonne Santi (Adèle Haenel, right) becomes unexpectedly involved with her co-worker Louis (Damien Bonnard, left) in the delightful French farce, “The Trouble with You” (“En liberté!”).

In light of the foregoing, Yvonne decides to shelve her plan. However, she nevertheless feels compelled to make amends for her husband’s actions. Given the injustice perpetrated against Antoine, she wants to help smooth his transition from prison to everyday life. She’s especially concerned about his well-being when she learns that incarceration has been difficult for him. In response to being erroneously locked up, Antoine has developed anger management issues and violent tendencies, traits that threaten to flare up inexplicably on a moment’s notice. And now that he’s about to be let back into society, Yvonne is worried that he might harm himself or others, perhaps causing significant mayhem and winding up back behind bars in no time, all through no fault of his own.

Upon Antoine’s release, he’s agitated at what happened to him and quietly hatches plans to seek revenge against a society that he believes treated him unfairly. But, given that he’s easily confused by everything that has happened, he doesn’t always think things through, exhibiting behavior that often comes across as erratic. His devoted wife, Agnès (Audrey Tautou), who has waited faithfully for his return, does her best to cope with him, but it’s more than she can handle. Something needs to be done to keep Antoine out of harm’s way.

Enter Yvonne. As she learns of Antoine’s cockeyed schemes, she clandestinely seeks to intervene, trying to rectify matters anonymously before he gets in trouble. However, when he soon discovers her, he immediately becomes smitten, and suddenly she has a second set of issues to contend with. Yvonne clearly wants to do the right thing, but how far will she need to go to keep everything stable?

To complicate matters, Yvonne also must wrestle with a number of other issues, such as the ongoing fallout from the raid that she and her peers conducted at the S&M parlor. Then there’s the growing affection being shown her by co-worker Louis, who begins making his moves at the same time as Antoine’s advances. And, through it all, she also has her responsibilities as a single parent, doing what she can to raise her son and shield him from the truth about (and her growing anger at) his late father. It’s a full plate, to say the least.

Most of us would agree that there’s much to be said for making amends. Atoning for any wrongs we may have committed against others enables us to feel better about ourselves, and it’s a result that comes about by our belief in that possibility. For Yvonne, this concern is obviously a crucial one. She’s appalled at what her late husband did and feels compelled to make up for it, especially where Antoine is concerned. And that goal is certainly laudable, but one also can’t help but wonder why she’s so obsessed with this idea given that the transgressions were Jean’s doing, not hers. What gives?

As Yvonne embarks on this process, this could be a family honor issue. By making up for her late husband’s misdeeds, she may well believe she has an opportunity to restore the respectability that Jean tarnished. There could also be a professional pride issue involved. As a fellow police officer, her actions now may help to wipe away the crimes of a crooked cop. She obviously doesn’t have to do any of this, and her efforts are most definitely noteworthy.

However, if her intents are so noble, then why do her efforts frequently go awry? That’s where Antoine comes into play. As this is a jointly choreographed dance, he obviously has a say in matters, too. He believes he has an axe to grind, and he feels justified in seeing through on his plans, even if he doesn’t always think them through. So now that Yvonne is attempting to set things right, she bumps up against his agenda, one that is definitely not in line with hers, no matter how sincere her intents may have been going in. Each of them might end up unwittingly saying to the other, “The trouble with you is trouble for me!”

Although sometimes a little too complicated for its own good, this hilarious screwball comedy delivers big laughs from beginning to end, full of side-splitting twists and turns that will leave your belly sore by the time of the closing credits. Director Pierre Salvadori serves up an array of giggles, chuckles and guffaws with material that’s fresh, original and inventive. That’s particularly true of the cleverly crafted bedtime stories Yvonne tells Théo about his father, tales of Jean’s exploits depicted through flashback sequences that fuse elements of American TV cop shows, 1970s Blaxploitation movies and classic Jean-Paul Belmondo crime capers. Don’t be surprised if you walk away from this one exhausted but sufficiently entertained.

As the winner of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight Award, “The Trouble with You” has been an enormous hit in its native France, as well as an immensely popular crowd-pleaser in other parts of Europe, Asia and Australia, released under the name “En liberté!” (“Unleashed!”). Unfortunately, in North America, the picture has primarily been playing at film festivals, which may make finding it a little difficult. Check the film’s web site for details.

While many of us may feel the urge to help others who’ve been wronged, there are times when we may be better off leaving those proverbial sleeping dogs to their own devices. Whatever we do, we should first assess the situation carefully and follow our gut to determine how we should proceed. After all, while there may be something to be said for being of assistance, there’s also something to be said for knowing when not to go looking for trouble.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2018-19, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.